In December, 1987, the Riverside County Coroner examined the non-cryopreserved remains of neuropatient Dora Kent and determined that the mode of death was natural. A death certificate was issued reflecting that determination. In January the Coroner revised the mode of death to homicide, alleging that the distribution and metabolism of barbiturates in the body meant that the drugs were given before death. Alcor has always stated that barbiturates were administered after legal death, and that the drugs were metabolized because of cardiopulmonary support (CPR and heart-lung machine) used during cryonics procedures to keep tissue alive. No charges were ever filed.
For more details concerning the Dora Kent case, see:
Excerpted from Cryonics, March 1988
Q. Outsiders and those on the periphery of cryonics sometimes ask if there is any substance to charges that barbiturates were administered before legal death occurred? In other words, "Did you do it?"
We ask this question here so that we can clearly and unequivocally answer it. No, we did not administer any barbiturates to Mrs. Kent before her legal death. There was no reason to do so -- and in fact a considerable effort had to be made to maintain her vital functions (i.e., keep her alive) until preparations for suspension were complete.
Q. What has been said by the District Attorney's Office about the Coroner's finding of homicide?
Statements have been mixed. Initially very radical statements were made to the effect that crimes in the form of stolen property and homicide were known to have occurred. Later, more moderate statements were made. But one thing seems clear: any trial of Alcor Suspension Team Members will be highly technical, attract enormous international press attention, and hinge on issues of fundamental importance to cryonics.
By way of example we quote from an article in the February 24th Riverside Press Enterprise, wherein Deputy District Attorney Curt Hinman made a statement that, "even if the people at the Alcor laboratory determined Kent was dead when the drugs were administered, the question is why barbiturates, which are sedatives, were given. If the reason is to keep her from reviving, then is she really dead? If they keep her from waking up, that's murder."
Needless to say they haven't asked why we give barbiturates (they reduce cerebral metabolic demands during poor tissue perfusion -- ischemia -- enormously) and the statement about preventing her from reviving only goes to illustrate the profound ignorance and lack of even basic medical understanding which has surrounded this case from the start.
If a person is a "no code" (i.e., not to be resuscitated in the event of respiratory and/or cardiac arrest) such as Dora Kent, and dies, and you restore circulation and breathing artificially (i.e., via CPR) and you give them medications in the course of the procedure that would prevent them from resuming spontaneous respiration and breathing (which they wouldn't have done anyway unless you started CPR) and then you place them in cryonic suspension, have you killed them? Or to sum it up as one wag put it: "Those people at Alcor are a dangerous bunch. They killed a little old lady who died of natural causes and if they aren't stopped they may kill other people who die of natural causes!"
Q: Why is the Coroner pursuing this course of action against Alcor?
We wish we knew for sure. Our best guess is that it is a mixture of ignorance, misunderstanding, and fear. Yes, fear. We know from published interviews that carrying out a cryonic suspension under optimum circumstances as we did in the case of Mrs. Kent made some of the deputies very uncomfortable (this is an understatement). Deputy Coroner Rick Bogan has stated on numerous occasions that he felt cryonics needed to regulated and it was apparent to us from the start that no one in the Coroner's office seemed to understand what cryonics was about -- let alone care in the slightest about the well-being of the patient's in suspension. Patients are just debris, just pieces of meat to be buried or burned.
If the Coroner thought even remotely that cryonics might work they would no more want to autopsy Dora Kent than they would want to go into an ICU and autopsy a patient struggling for life with a bullet in his brain.
No doubt another part of the problem is political. The press conference on December 23 started a chain reaction which has resulted in enormous expense and grief on both sides. It becomes a game of "chicken." On their side their careers are potentially at stake, on our side our lives. Because they don't understand cryonics and because they are convinced it won't work, they can't fully appreciate our position.
Someone in Northern California summed up their perception of the situation nicely: "[The Coroner's staff] thought this was just some crap game in the back of a sleazy little pool parlor and that everyone would run for the door as soon as they shouted 'Police!'." They were wrong. There is nothing dirty or ugly about cryonics -- it is one of the most powerful and positive things in our lives and we will stand up and defend it.
And as to our perception of them? Al Roca, one of our Associate Members on the East Coast, summed it up beautifully: "An Aztec official, if taken into an operating room today where open-heart surgery was being performed, would probably imagine it was a new form of human sacrifice. Likewise, Deputy Coroner Cupido sees the headless corpse of Dora Kent and can see only homicide, which his principles say must be prosecuted. As cryonicist Thomas Donaldson wrote several years ago:
'Ixlipotli the Aztec had a life founded upon firm moral values, such as cannibalism and periodic scarification. His high ethical principles gave structure and meaning to his life, and his achievements gave him a sense of deep personal satisfaction. To be chosen to cut out the heart of a captive was a great personal honor, signaling the respect which he merited throughout all Tenochtitlan. It was the year 1492, though not on his calendar.'
"Welcome to the third millennium, Mr. Cupido. Try not to cause too much damage."